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Laundry Workers Face Job Threats

November 9 – A caravan of immigrant, religious and union leaders along with affected workers and their families will visit Cintas and other employers threatening to fire immigrant workers and using arrests and deportations against labor activists on November 10, the Chicago Workers Collaborative announced.

Leaving CWC’s 3047 W. Cermak office at 10 a.m, the delegation plans to visit Jays Food, Aguirre Building Maintenance, and the Stockyard Meat Co., all in Chicago, along with Cintas Corp.’s Schaumburg plant.

“Instead of following the law and respecting the privacy of workers who have enabled them to prosper, these companies have decided to take immoral actions against their immigrant employees – with blatant disregard for the workers‚ contributions, their livelihoods or their families,” said Tim Bell of CWC in a statement.]

Labor groups and supporters are protesting a crackdown on immigrant workers amid a hard-fought union drive at three Chicago plants of Cintas, the nation’s largest laundry and uniform service.

Almost 40 Chicago-area Cintas workers have been given two months to iron out discrepancies with their Social Security numbers or face the loss of their jobs, said Ramiro Hernandez of UNITE-HERE.

At the company’s Schaumburg plant about 20 production workers – over a third of the workforce – have been notified that their jobs are at peril, he said.

A delegation of community supporters sought a meeting with the Schaumburg plant’s manager last month and was turned away, said Tim Bell of the Chicago Workers Collaborative.

They were told to contact an official at Cintas’ corporate headquarters in Ohio but have received no responses to their calls, he said.

Cintas is voluntarily carrying out a proposed Department of Homeland Security rule which would encourage employees to fire workers who do not themselves correct Social Security number mismatches or reverify their work authorization after an employer receives a “no-match” letter from the Social Security Administration.

The rule has not yet been enacted, and it has generated considerable controversy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said the rule could foster workplace discrimination, and civil rights groups have argued it would violate the “document abuse” prohibition and anti-discrimination provisions of immigration law.

Many discrepancies between Social Security numbers and employer records are due to marriages, divorces, common surnames, and clerical errors, they say. And given the cumbersome bureacracy involved, it can take months to resolve such issues.

Advocates point out that the “no-match” letters themselves – which are intended to ensure that workers’ earnings are correctly credited – state that they do not constitute notice of possible immigration violations, and should not be grounds for adverse action against employees.

The DHS proposal could lead to law-abiding workers losing their jobs due to employer misunderstanding or abuse of the rule, they say.

Employees could abuse the rule “to replace more senior people making $11 an hour with new workers getting $6.50 an hour,” Bell said.

Eluteria Mazon, a Cintas employee who has worked at the Schaumburg plant for 14 years, said workers threatened in her plant include some who have worked there for 10 years or more. All of the threatened workers are Latino, she said.

“When the company uses a proposal that isn’t legally required against its own workers, it shows a lack of respect for all the years they have given to the company,” Mazon said.

A delegation of religious leaders is now planning to visit plant managers, said Barbara Pfarr of the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues.

A joint UNITE-HERE and the Teamsters organizing drive has been underway at Cintas for almost four years. The NLRB has ruled that the company has illegally suppressed organizing efforts, and NLRB charges that Cintas illegally fired union supporters are pending.

The company also faces several class action lawsuits charging overtime violations and discrimination.

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Category: immigrants, labor

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